The ‘Year of the Coast 2023 marks the creation of the new England Coast Path and an opportunity to discover seven of the unique, hidden gems that make the Isle of Thanet, and the coastal resorts of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate, so wonderfully exciting and diverse.
The Isle of Thanet has 19 miles of coastline and 16 spectacular, sandy beaches and bays, many with Blue Flag or Seaside Awards. This coastline represents 20% of the UK’s and 12% of Europe’s coastal chalk, and it is the longest continuous stretch of coastal chalk in Britain. The whole of the Isle of Thanet coastline is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The Isle encompasses the resorts of Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate, so close in proximity but widely different in character.
The Isle of Thanet’s stretch of the England Coast Path follows much of the Viking Coastal Trail. The Trail is Kent’s most scenic leisure cycling route and Regional Route 15 of the National Cycle Network.
Here are seven unique, hidden gems to discover when walking or cycling this captivating corner of England.
Viking Ship ‘Hugin’, Ramsgate
The ‘Hugin’ is a replica of a Viking ship which sailed from Denmark to the Isle of Thanet in 1949 to commemorate the 1500th anniversary of the invasion of Britain, the traditional landing of Hengist and Horsa and the betrothal of Hengist’s daughter, Rowena, to King Vortigen of Kent. In the 1949 sailing, of the 53 crewmen, only the navigator, Peter Jensen, was a professional seaman. Viking conditions were faithfully observed and the only instrument carried was a sextant.
‘Hugin’ sits on the cliff top overlooking Pegwell Bay.
Discover more with the onsite digital plaque or at www.visitthanet.co.uk/gzx8npl/
Pugin’s The Grange / St. Augustine’s Church, Ramsgate
Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) was the leader of the Gothic Revival during the early part of the 19th century. He is best known for the magnificent interiors, furnishings and fittings that he designed for the Houses of Parliament.
Pugin started to build The Grange in 1843, to be his family home. The concept of the building was ground-breaking at the time, discarding symmetry for function.
The Grange is now owned by The Landmark Trust and is available for stays and limited number, pre-booked tours on Wednesday afternoons.
Pugin began to build St. Augustine’s Church on ground next to The Grange in 1845. The church is the burial place of Augustus Pugin and also the shrine of St. Augustine of England.
St. Augustine and Pugin: Shrine and Visitor Centre is open daily for visits, 1pm-3:30pm, except Tuesdays and Sundays. Free entry.
The Pugin’s – A Ramsgate Town Trail, self-guided walking leaflet celebrates the architect and his family’s architectural contribution to the town.
Royal Harbour, Ramsgate
Ramsgate boasts the country’s only Royal Harbour.
King George IV granted its royal designation in 1821 in appreciation of the hospitality that Ramsgate provided when he embarked with the Royal Squadron from Ramsgate to Hanover.
The harbour has played an important role throughout history, as one of the main embarkation harbours during the Napoleonic wars, and during WWII Operation Dynamo when fleets of ‘Little Ships’ assembled in the Royal Harbour before crossing to Dunkirk to ferry men from the beaches to waiting ships.
North Foreland Lighthouse, Broadstairs
North Foreland is the most south-easterly point of Britain. There has been a light here in some form since 1499.
The foundations of the present lighthouse date back to 1691. It was recorded that the lighthouse used 100 tons of coal in 1698.
The present structure, with two extra storeys, dates back to 1793, when the coal fire was replaced by 18 oil lamps. Trinity House purchased the lighthouse in 1832, adding two cottages for the keepers and their families. The light source has been improved several times, from a pair of eight-wick Trinity House-pattern burners for heavy mineral oil (1894), to a triple mantle burner (1904) to a ‘Hood’ 100mm petroleum vapour burner (1923).
North Foreland was the last Trinity House lighthouse to be automated, which took place in 1998.
Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) stayed in Broadstairs in 1859 and in 1861. North Foreland Lighthouse is said to have been the inspiration for the title of his detective novel ‘The Woman in White’.
The two keeper’s cottages are now available as self-catering holiday lets through Trinity House.
Walpole Bay Tidal Pool, Margate
Until the 1730s, Margate was a small fishing village. It was then that sea-bathing started to become popular for medicinal purposes, sparking the growth of Margate as a fashionable resort.
The Grade II listed Walpole Bay Tidal Pool was built and opened in 1937 and is believed to be the largest tidal pool in the UK.
It covers four acres (16,187 sq m) and reaches depths of 6ft (1.8m) in places. It measures 450ft (137m) long, 300ft (91m) wide at the sea end and 550ft (168m) wide at the land end.
It is popular for sea swimming and has fresh water springs rising from the beach within the walls.
Shell Grotto, Margate
A short walk from the coastal path, the Shell Grotto was discovered in 1835. It’s an astonishing find; 70ft (21m) of winding passages decorated with 4.6 million shells.
The walls are covered in images of gods and goddesses, trees of life and patterns made from the shells of whelks, mussels and oysters.
Some think it is an ancient Pagan grotto, others that it is simply an ornate Regency folly; but with no definitive explanation or history, the Shell Grotto is Kent’s greatest mystery.
Adult £4.50, concessions £4, child (4-16) £2, under 4s free, family ticket (2 adults, 2 children) £10. See website for opening times.
For further information, other Isle of Thanet attractions, events and accommodation go to www.visitthanet.co.uk